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The 12th annual Chicago Underground Film Festival continues through Thursday, August 25, at the Music Box. Tickets are $8; a discount card, redeemable for ten tickets at the box office, can be purchased by calling 866-468-3401. For more information visit


Around These Parts

A program of documentary shorts. 76 min. (5:45 PM)

RThis Revolution

Stephen Marshall, director of numerous left-wing shorts as part of the Guerrilla News Network, makes his feature debut with this novel remake of Haskell Wexler's counterculture classic Medium Cool (1969). The action has been updated from the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago to last summer's Republican National Convention in New York, and this time the disillusioned cameraman (Nathan Crooker), just returned from Iraq, is dispatched by his cable news network to round up some "edgy" footage of anarchist troublemakers. The story turns corny at the end, with an evil network exec patterned after Robert Duvall in Network and a stick-it-to-the-man climax that suggests an old Robert Redford movie, but for the most part this offers a provocative critique of the corporate media's conservative bias. 95 min. (JJ) (6 PM)

It's Video-Licious!

A program of experimental video shorts. 74 min. (7:45 PM)

Code 33

Shot in summer 2003, this compelling 80-minute video documentary follows various members of the Miami police department's sexual battery unit as they come under intense political pressure to apprehend a serial rapist in Little Havana. Directors David Beilinson, Michael Galinsky, Suki Hawley, and Zachary Werner were granted remarkable access to the investigative team's professional and personal lives, and that intimacy, combined with the multiplicity of perspectives, boosts this several notches above the police procedurals on network TV. Completing the program is Kristen Nutile's Police Blotter (2004, 4 min.), a tart snapshot of crime in the U.S. (Reece Pendleton) (8 PM)

The Will of Dean Snider

Jaime Kibben's 2001 documentary follows the declining health of experimental filmmaker Dean Snider, who's had Parkinson's for 11 years and is no longer able to bike or drive. "I really, really, really, really know it's time," he says, as he plans suicide by Magnum. Excerpts of his apparently whimsical films heighten the tragedy by suggesting that he truly loved life. Some viewers may be troubled by the camera's unblinking stare at his awkward body and difficult speech, but it's also an unblinking look at fatal illness and a seemingly rational decision. 60 min. (FC) (9:45 PM)


A mousy young woman moves into a studio apartment and discovers voice-mail messages that suggest the previous occupant is in danger; before long mysterious figures begin to appear, a painting on the wall comes to life, and appliances spontaneously combust. Directed by Reynold Reynolds and Patrick Jolley, who previously collaborated on a trilogy of experimental shorts, this unsettling depiction of solitude and madness provides little in the way of plot or resolution, but almost every shot is interesting. As the heroine, Samara Golden avoids theatrics, holding our attention through her very lack of affect. 84 min. (AG) (10 PM)


This no-budget mockumentary video has a lot going on despite its crude production values, uneven acting, and harsh humor. Two friends decide to chauffeur an elderly drunk, referred to as Grandpa, to a hotel where he engaged in some legendary debauches (one tale has him taking on five prostitutes in a single night). Bill Tyree is both comical and pathetic as the title character, and writer-director Giuseppe Andrews (whose Trailer Town screened as part of the 2003 festival) intentionally blurs the line between scripted dialogue and the incoherent ramblings of an old boozer. The video's biting misanthropy and humiliation are clearly influenced by Charles Bukowski, though this lacks his singularly pungent context. 85 min. (JK) (11:45 PM)

Captain Milkshake

This 1970 youth picture opened strongly in the wake of Easy Rider but then vanished, the victim of a legal dispute between writer-producer-director Richard Crawford and one of his backers. Revived again after decades in limbo, it's an interesting period piece whose intelligent script survives some terrible acting. A clean-cut soldier on leave from the Vietnam war returns home to San Diego to attend his stepfather's funeral and falls in love with a beatific hippie chick; though he defends the war out of loyalty to his platoon buddies, he's haunted by memories of his questionable kills in battle. The movie's psychedelic reveries may seem like outtakes from an Austin Powers movie, but Crawford was ahead of the curve in charting the emotional conflicts of returning vets. R, 90 min. (JJ) (Midnight)



See listing for Fri 8/19. (Noon)

Nature Studies

A program of experimental shorts. 86 min. (1:45 PM)

REars, Open. Eyeballs, Click.

Video maker Canaan Brumley took advantage of his day job as a barber at Camp Pendleton, California, to shoot this no-nonsense documentary of marine recruits being whipped into shape over 12 weeks. It's impossible to watch this without thinking of Frederick Wiseman's verite classic Basic Training (1971), and like Wiseman, Brumley dispenses with editorializing and talking heads, letting the story tell itself. Not much has changed in the past three decades: drill sergeants do their best to break down the recruits' sense of individual will and unleash their bloodlust. "Open up the chain saw!" shouts one during combat training. "Rage and aggression!" But Brumley is also admirably attentive to the more mundane aspects of camp life: one lengthy low-angle shot shows nothing but the men's feet in the shower, slapping around in their cheap flip-flops. 115 min. (JJ) (2 PM)

Transmissions and Transitions

A program of experimental shorts. 72 min. (3:45 PM)

RBound to Lose

A deeply entertaining meditation on the power of friendship and music, this video documentary by Paul Lovelace and Sam Wainwright Douglas chronicles the wild four-decade career of the Holy Modal Rounders. While various members--including playwright Sam Shepard--came and went over the years, the band's true core was Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber, a pair of fun-loving, highly literate pranksters who took the piss out of the 60s folk movement while displaying an understanding and love of American folk traditions that easily transcended that of most of their peers. Drugs drove a wedge between them in the 70s, as Stampfel straightened up and raised a family in New York while Weber moved the ragtag band to Portland. Shot over three years, beginning around the time the duo released a 1999 comeback album, the film captures the pair's volatile relationship, whose many ups and downs are soothed by a powerful shared musical aesthetic. 87 min. (Peter Margasak) (4 PM)

RThe Ant Hill

At the center of this video, one of Chicagoan James Fotopoulos's strongest works, is a cult founded by a man who says he's obeying instructions from a forest apparition. The sparse narrative follows the usual cult arc--the leader requires obedience, the followers perform revolting tasks (most, thankfully, offscreen), and two plan an escape. But this is less realistic storytelling than contemplative satire--the leader wears a hokey beard and crown, and the actors speak like automatons. In a prologue the leader writhes nude, almost epileptic, alongside a woman, suggesting Fotopoulos's key theme: our bodies, and existence itself, are the real traps. 60 min. (FC) (5:45 PM)

Fun, Fun, Fun

A program of animated, experimental, and documentary shorts. 77 min. (6 PM)

The 21 Lives of Billy the Kid

Ben Russell's 16-millimeter experimental film is a moody rumination on a mythic figure of the American west. One actor plays the infamous outlaw and his many victims, the surreal quality intensifying as after each death he revives with new bullet wounds amid the old. The bordered frame, jump cuts, and reverse-motion photography all heighten the artifice of the unconventional narrative, which poses questions about the impermanence of memory and the nature of mortality. 55 min. Also on the program: Thomas Comerford's 16-millimeter short Land Marked/Marquette (23 min.), which draws on Marquette's 17th-century explorations to reflect on racism then and now. (AG) (7:45 PM)

RWe Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen

The Minutemen were the most musically sophisticated band of the 80s hardcore punk explosion, incorporating funk, jazz, and folk in an avalanche of hypershort, lyrically direct songs. This smart and rocking video documentary by Tim Irwin follows the trio from its origins in suburban San Pedro, California, in 1979 to the December 1985 traffic death of singer-guitarist D. Boon, which ended his deep and creatively fruitful friendship with bassist Mike Watt as well as the band. His demise is one of rock's most tragic--there's no telling what the band might have done had he lived--but Irwin doesn't dwell on it. Instead he lets more than four dozen musicians, artists, and writers explain what made the band so exciting, punctuating their remarks with good to excellent performance footage. 90 min. (JJ) (8 PM)

The Way We Were

A program of experimental and documentary shorts. 75 min. (9:45 PM)

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

This gory slasher movie was made in Chicago in 1986 but held in limbo until 1989 because of its disturbing content. Very capably acted (by Michael Rooker, Tracy Arnold, and Tom Towles), written (by Richard Fire and John McNaughton), and directed (by McNaughton), this, like every other slasher movie, has its roots in Psycho. The tensions developed here are more behavioral and psychological than those essayed by Hitchcock, though the insights into the personality of a compulsive killer are at best partial and perfunctory. What mainly registers is the nihilism of the warped ex-con (Rooker) and his dim-witted friend and accomplice (Towles), who joins him in a string of senseless murders, which the film makes chillingly believable. Certainly not for everyone, but if slasher movies are your cup of tea, this is a lot better than most, and the use of Chicago locations is especially effective. 90 min. McNaughton will introduce the screening. (JR) (10 PM)


A program of shorts curated by Torsten Zenas Burns and including work by James Fotopoulos and Ken Russell. 97 min. (11:45 PM)


Director Jesse Heffring used real surveillance cameras to shoot this Canadian cyberthriller about a doctor (Colin Walsh) ensnared in a high-tech scavenger hunt by an omniscient villain at the other end of his cell phone. The doctor's wife is imprisoned in a tank that floods every time he's given a new task, and only his timely completion of it will save her from drowning. Heffring's theme--how heightened security limits our personal choices--is rich in possibilities, and the spare dialogue and eerie visuals sustain the tension for a while. But ultimately the gimmicks become tiresome, and the ending is marred by weak acting and sloppy writing. In English and subtitled French. 84 min. (AG) (Midnight)


Code 33

See listing for Fri 8/19. (Noon)

Sound Check

A program of animated and experimental shorts. 78 min. (1:45 PM)

Four Eyed Monsters

This diaristic relationship drama by New York video artist Arin Crumley and animator Susan Buice is so playful and imaginative that only at the very end--in a metafictional tag about their project's success on the festival circuit--does its narcissism become off-putting. The story, apparently autobiographical, begins when Crumley finds Buice on a dating Web page, and their art-nerd romance develops through a rarefied exchange of at first notes and then videotapes after Crumley is diagnosed with herpes and Buice ditches him for a stay at a writers' colony. They reunite eventually, though in retrospect they seem less taken with each other than with their sense of their mutual creativity. 77 min. (JJ) (2 PM)

In the City

A program of experimental shorts. 78 min. (3:45 PM)

Who Killed Cock Robin?

Travis Wilkerson returns to economically depressed Butte, Montana--the site of his 2002 documentary An Injury to One--for this feature. Shot with several different video cameras, it has a textured, hodgepodge look that reflects the messy lives of its three main characters: a young dishwasher (Barrett Miller), his best friend (Dylan Wilkerson), and their guitar-picking father figure (Charlie Parr). The men smoke, drink, and bemoan the state of Butte since the mines closed 20 years earlier, and though many of their observations show their knee-jerk leftism, there are also a number of raw, unpredictable moments. The music, performed by all three actors, enhances the melancholy tone, especially Miller's soulful rendition of "Joe Hill." 82 min. (JK) (4 PM)

Kings of the Sky

Deborah Stratman's thoughtful 2004 video documentary observes from a respectful distance as Adil Hoxur and his Uighur circus troupe perform throughout the Xinjiang region of China. Descended from Turks and devoted to Islam, the Uighur people have maintained their cultural traditions in this part of China for over five centuries, and Hoxur, heir to a long line of tightrope artists, is a national hero. But as Stratman makes poignantly clear, he and his fellow performers are still regarded with suspicion, and sometimes open hostility, by the Chinese police and military. In Uighur and Mandarin with subtitles. 68 min. (JK) (5:45 PM)

RSpicebush Kevin

Jerome Everson's unassuming first feature, a fragmentary collage combining fiction and documentary, is an inspiring inventory of the ordinary. Divided into 17 chapters, it juxtaposes African-Americans at work and a young girl at play, contrasting imaginative freedom and the messy constraints of the adult world--the girl seems confined walking down a street and liberated watching the ocean. The history of segregation is referenced in one section, and nature close-ups are used throughout. What the video elides is as important as what it includes, as it reaches toward the world-embracing hugeness of some of cinema's key masterpieces--some films of Vertov, Rossellini, and Kubelka come to mind. 73 min. (FC) (6 PM)

Somewhere in Dreamland

A program of animated and experimental shorts. 82 min. (7:45 PM)

Late Breaking News

According to a recent Chicago Tribune profile, nighthawk video journalist Ken Herzlich can't stand to watch his own horrific footage of the 1993 Paxton Hotel blaze. Jon Knoll, who directed this video portrait of the hardworking stringer, suffers no such qualms: he opens with tape of some Cottage Grove fire victims plummeting 50 feet from window to sidewalk, running it over and over again. His documentary provides a fascinating overview of Herzlich's operation (which involves a second videographer and a dispatcher) and makes some pertinent points about which murders qualify for TV coverage (west-side drug killings are considered a snooze). But Knoll is too much of a rubbernecker to question the social function of such televised mayhem and too cozy with Herzlich to ask what his footage fetches on the open market. 86 min. (JJ) (8 PM)

The Outer Limits

A program of experimental and documentary shorts. 74 min. (9:45 PM)

RBurn to Shine 02: Chicago, IL

Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty and filmmaker Christoph Green have style to burn in this 45-minute concert video, shot inside a condemned house in Edgewater; cameras dangle from a torn ceiling, peek through windows, and dodge musicians to capture every facet of the nine bands performing. Wilco is the most polished act, but for novelty you can't beat the Lonesome Organist, who attacks keyboards and drums simultaneously before segueing to accordion and tap dancing. Other highlights are the Ponys, Tortoise, and Shellac. Shellac bassist Bob Weston also assembled the eclectic lineup and recorded and mixed the flawless sound. Shorts round out the program, which runs 67 minutes. (AG) (10 PM)


Various Visions

A program of experimental shorts. 74 min. (5:45 PM)

Captain Milkshake

See listing for Fri 8/19. (6 PM)

The Will of Dean Snider

See listing for Fri 8/19. (7:45 PM)

The Whole World Is Watching

Northwestern University seniors Emir Eralp and Miki Johnson shot this 56-minute video documentary in summer 2004, when they traveled to the Republican National Convention in New York City with a van full of left-wing protesters. Over the next eight days they covered seven major protests; their video provides attendance and arrest statistics for each. Most of the protesters interviewed think the corporate media both trivialize and sensationalize mass dissent, but Eralp and Johnson's media criticism is largely anecdotal: they excerpt some typically lame commentary from MSNBC but present little hard information about how each event was covered by mainstream journalists. With commentary by Stephen Colbert, the clever satirist from The Daily Show. (JJ) Also on the program: Brian Coffey's six-minute Like Being Pursued by a Boulder. (8 PM)


See listing for Sat 8/20. (9:45 PM)

RThis Revolution

See listing for Fri 8/19. (10 PM)


Emotional Rescue

A program of animated and experimental shorts. 79 min. (5:45 PM)

Four Eyed Monsters

See listing for Sun 8/21. (6 PM)

Cultural Diversity

A program of animated, experimental, and documentary shorts. 67 min. (7:45 PM)

REars, Open. Eyeballs, Click.

See listing for Sat 8/20. (8 PM)

This Can't Be Real

A program of experimental and documentary shorts. 75 min. (9:45 PM)


See listing for Sat 8/20. (10 PM)


Don't Tread on Me

A program of experimental and documentary shorts. 77 min. (5:45 PM)


See listing for Sun 8/21. (6 PM)

Beautiful Girls

A program of experimental shorts. 71 min. (7:45 PM)

Who Killed Cock Robin?

See listing for Sun 8/21. (8 PM)

Existential Tango

A program of experimental and documentary shorts. 83 min. (9:45 PM)

RBound to Lose

See listing for Sat 8/20. (10 PM)


Fun, Fun, Fun

See listing for Sat 8/20. (5:45 PM)

Late Breaking News

See listing for Sun 8/21 (6 PM)

The Outer Limits

See listing for Sun 8/21. (7:45 PM)

Live Freaky! Die Freaky!

California rockers--Billie Joe Armstrong, John Doe, Jane Wiedlin--lend their voices to this cheerfully tasteless clay-animation parody of the Manson murders. Writer-director John Roecker has a particularly good time zinging Sharon Tate, the pregnant movie star butchered by Manson's disciples in 1969; her proudly bourgeois counterpart, Sharon Hate, does an uproarious musical number celebrating the destruction of the ozone layer and ingests massive amounts of coke, insisting "I have to snort for two." An exercise in free-floating mockery, the movie is ultimately more cruel than funny, though Roecker has an admirable sense of the absurd (the cult takes its inspiration to kill from a loop of the Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand"). 80 min. (JJ) (8 PM)

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